be free, be happy, be peaceful

May all find the teacher within to guide oneself towards unconditional love and peace

Sunday, February 28, 2010

About Self-Image And Identity



Most of us, the human beings rely or attach very much onto a self-image or identity. There is nothing wrong with this type of mentality at all. It is a very normal behavior of human beings.

We feel that we are a separate individual and are different from everybody and we need a self-image as well as an identity to represent or determine who we are and what we are. We want to justify and announce ourselves to the world that we are a special person who has certain style of personality and certain type of characteristic, belief, thinking, likes and dislikes, way of life, point of view, culture, hobbies, talents, body image, gestures, facial expressions, body language, appearance, dressing style, hair style, way of communication and socialization with others, social status, worldly achievements, academic achievements, spiritual achievements, and etc.

We also want to show-off to the world about who we are or want to please other people with our unique self-image and personal identity. We also want to be accepted and fit into a certain group identity or society that we like and want to be recognized by this group. We want to be the same as this group that we like to be but don’t want to be associated with some other groups that we don’t like to be. If other people do not accept us or do not recognize us or are disagree with our self-image and identity, we will be very unhappy and not comfortable with ourselves.

Basically our self-esteem is based on all these things and is based on self-recognization and recognization by others about ourselves as this and that. Our self-confidence are being determined by the standard and expectation that we put onto ourselves about how we should behave in front of the world, how we are being acknowledged and recognized by our own self and the world, about our ability in doing this and that, as well as about our achievements and success in whatever we do in life.

Such like we want to make sure that we will fit into a certain catergory and label ourselves as “this” and “that”. Most of us want to be good, and being recognized and labeled as “good person”, “good human being”, “good parent”, “good children”, “good husband or wife”, “good student”, “good teacher”, “good leader”, “good follower”, “good friend”, “good citizen”, “successful person”, “unselfish people”, “kind people”, “nice people”, “good yogi”, and etc. But it is not everybody also want to be good. Some of us want to be bad, and don’t want to be recognized or being labeled as all these so called “good” and “successful” labels, instead we want to be different from all these conventional ideas of being “good”. We want to be recognized and labeled as “bad and evil”, “bad person”, “bad human being”, “selfish people”, “wicked people”, “inappropriate behavior people”, “loser” and etc. But whether it is something “good” or something “bad”, we all are still looking for some kind of self-image and identity. Either we want to be “this” or we don’t want to be “that”.

We are very sensitive about how other people look at us and think of us. We will be very unhappy when other people say that we are “not good” or they didn’t say that we are “good”. Even if we don’t want to be good and want to be bad, we also want to be very “good” at being bad, and say “look, I am so bad”.

For some people, we might feel better about ourselves and feel more superior than other people or other beings when we follow a certain belief or practice that we think it is something “good for humanity”, “unselfish”, “caring for the world”, “more intelligent” or just a “better” thing to do or practice, to show that we are “good”, we are “kind”, we are “right” and we are “better”. Such like we want to promote non-harming to all living beings and getting into vegetarianism way of living, and call ourselves as “vegetarian”, and being proud of being a “vegetarian”. We will criticize other people who are “non-vegetarian” or “meat eater” or “animal killer”. We will feel guilty and bad if we ate some non-vegetarian products, and feel sick and horrible. This is nothing wrong also. It is a natural reaction for anybody especially if we want to be “good” and feel good about ourselves being “good”. But at the same time, we will be so unhappy if “vegetarian food” is not available to us, and we are not “vegetarian” due to certain reasons, because being a vegetarian will make us feel so good and proud of ourselves. And if we are out of this catergory of self-image and identity of being “vegetarian”, we will feel so bad and disgust about ourselves just like how we will feel bad and disgust about other people when we see other people eating meat and other non-vegetarian products.

If we can let go of this identity and self-image of “I am vegetarian”, and that we don’t eat meat is purely due to loving kindness and being compassionate towards all the living beings including all the “good” and “bad” insects, and not criticizing other people as non-vegetarian, and be happy with our own way of living while accepting and respecting other people with their way of living, then there will be no conflicts, guilts, disharmony, unhappiness, frustration and disappointment in ourselves for start, and then there will be no disharmony, dissatisfaction or unhappiness about other people too.

Very naturally we will catergorize everything into “good” and “bad”. We want to be the one that we want to be and like to be, and do the things that we want to do and like to do, it doesn’t matter if it is “good” or “bad”. But either we follow or do not follow the rules and standards that we applied onto everything, it will also make us very unhappy. Why? Because if I think that something is so good but I cannot do it, I will feel bad and guilty about myself. And if I can do it, I will feel proud of myself, being arrogant and unhappy about other people who do not do the same thing as I believe it is something good. I will be angry when other people do something “not good” which myself will not do. I will also be full of tensions to keep up with my own rules and standards, or else once I break my rules and cannot keep up with my standards, I will be so unhappy and guilty. It is all because I am attaching to my own certain self-image and identity, and is attaching to what I think is “good” and “not good”.

If everything goes well according to our wishes, then of course we will have no problems at all, and are happy with ourselves, feel good and confident about ourselves. But what if it doesn’t? What if everything or some of the things that we desire didn’t turn out to be the way that we expected and wished for? We will be very unhappy, feel bad and low confident about ourselves.

And so, this is not the way to real happiness. Because all these things that we think they are what we are and who we are, they all are impermanent. They are constantly changing and disappearing from time to time. If we depend on anything that will change, we will be very disappointed.

Real happiness is not something to be attained through any names and forms nor being determined by our appearance, our abilities, our achievements, our self-image or our identity, nor it is based on acknowledgement and recognization from the world.

If we want to have true happiness, we need to know how to be contented with where we are, who we are, what we are and how we are at this present moment now. This contentment is not coming from what we do and don’t do, or what we can do and cannot do, or what we like and don’t like, or what we have achieved in life.

It is about accepting ourselves as we are at this present moment now, that this is us, this is what we are, this is who we are, this is how we are, this is where we are, and this is the present condition of our body and the mind, this is what our body can do and cannot do at the present moment. And be very comfortable with ourselves and like ourselves as what we are now. If we don’t like certain things about ourselves, how can we be happy? If we are not happy with ourselves, how can we be happy with everything else in life and in the world?

We don’t need to have an identity or self-image to be recognized or acknowledged by anybody including our own self. There is no need to catergorize or label ourselves as “this” or “that”. We just need to do what we think is beneficial to ourselves and other people without forcing other people to follow what we believe and what we practice, and enjoy ourselves for everything that we do and can do at this present moment now, and we don’t have to apply any rules and standards for ourselves or for other people.

In the past, our body was young, strong, flexible, fit and healthy, and could enjoy and did a lot of things. But now, due to impermanence, our body is old, weak, inflexible, unfit and unhealthy, and we cannot enjoy and do the things that we used to enjoy and used to do anymore. If we cannot accept and respect the law of impermanence, we will be very unhappy. But if we can accept the changes and be comfortable with what we can do and enjoy what we do now, we will be free from unhappiness. We still can be happy with ourselves now without comparing ourselves with ourselves in the past.

Maybe in the past I was very bad and evil, but that cannot determine that I am bad and evil now. Maybe in the past I was good and wise, but that cannot determine that I am good and wise now. If we cannot accept this reality that the condition of our body and the mind is forever changing, and cannot accept and respect that this is the condition of our body and the mind at this present moment now, then we will be in suffering, discontented and very unhappy.

There are many teachings in the world about how to transcend suffering and how to attain true happiness. They all teach one very basic and yet the most important understanding, which is impermanence. If we cannot accept impermanence and its consequences, and cannot live in harmony with impermanence, we are building up lots of tensions in our body and in the mind. It is these tensions that create the imbalanced state of mind, and cause us dissatisfaction, frustration and unhappy feeling.

All the yoga practices, the philosophy, the asana practice, the pranayama, the concentration and the meditation are to help us to release tensions from the physical body and the mind (purification), and to prevent further tensions (detachment), and to help us to achieve a balanced state of mind (tranquility), so that we can see our true Self or true nature, and reunite with the pure consciousness which is eternal peaceful silence, pure knowledge, pure existence and pure bliss.

May we all found this contentment and be happy with ourselves. If we are happy with ourselves, then we can be happy with other things, other people and the world. If we are happy, we won’t do anything to hurt other people and ourselves.

There are also some of us who don’t need a self-image or identity to be exist in this world. We are not “this”. We are not “that”. We are just what we are. We are not “good beings”. We are not “bad beings”. We are not “vegetarian”. We are not “not vegetarian”. We also don’t need to fit into any groups and no need to be recognized by anybody or any groups. And usually the people who are having this type of mentality are more calm and happy in life.

It is not about being like “this” is wrong and bad, or being like “that” is right and good. It is about being happy and content with who we are and what we are, and not worry about who and what other people are.

Free ourselves from the bondage of self-image and the need of an identity. Be self-independent not depending on any fixed ideas, rules and standards that create by ourselves or by other people. Be selfless and not attach to anything. Everything will be fine whether there are rules or no rules to follow, as long as we are responsible for all our actions and be happy for all the consequences of our actions.

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Know thyself. There is no existence of 'I'. Everything is impermanent. Be free, be peaceful, be happy.

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Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia
My husband and I run ongoing yoga retreats in Langkawi Malaysia. We teach traditional Hatha Yoga - a combination of Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) and relaxation, that has given benefit to millions of practitioners over thousands of years. Our yoga studio is situated in Langkawi. We also run yoga retreats in Europe and India.

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